Like most Russians, I’m a tea-holic, and I also have a sweet tooth. The two are actually closely connected in the Russian language: we have an expression k chayu, meaning ’to go with tea’. K chayu encompasses all kinds of sugary treats: cakes, cookies, pastries, sweets, chocolates, and jams.
While the Russian tea ritual hasn’t quite reached the sophistication of English high tea, it has an almost metaphysical significance for most of us. We sit down for a cup of tea with sweets and pastries to exchange news, bond with family, start a relationship, close deals, discuss the meaning of life, calm down, or recharge.
If you don’t want to keep the kettle boiling at home, the town of Napa has enough places that offer a nice cup of tea and a tasty treat for every day of the week.
Sweetie Pies: a cosy place for sugar addicts
Sweetie Pies is hands down Napa’s cosiest cafe. It has a great location on the riverfront in the restored 1880’s Hatt building, and a delightfully old-fashioned interior with a vintage feed bagging machine and assorted chairs.
Sweetie Pies’ four-page menu is filled with pastries, pies, cookies, muffins, and cakes made from good-quality ingredients. But oh dear, most of them scream sugar. An orange currant scone, which I bought for breakfast, was not only sweet by itself, it had an even sweeter glaze. A lovely-looking chocolate mousse cake covered with chocolate shavings was so rich and sweet, it defeated me after the second spoonful (me! an insatiable chocolate-lover!). A coconut caramel cream sandwich had to shed all of its caramel cream before I could finish a half.
In sum, most of the treats are geared to a highly trained sweet American palate. If you, like me, look for more subtlety, choose an apple pie, in which the dough’s sweetness and richness is somewhat balanced by tarter apples, or a house-made dense granola bar. Or just share the dessert with your friends, or better yet, your date. And then sit back, sip some tea, have a nice conversation, and watch the Napa life go by.
Sweetie Pies is open from 6:30 am until 6 pm Monday – Thursday and until 9 pm Friday -Saturday, and from 7 am to 5 pm on Sunday. Sandwich cookies and assorted muffins – $3.50, cakes are from $6.50. A selection of Mighty Leaf tea pouches come with a teapot filled with hot water.
Oxbow Public Market: a gourmand’s bliss
Located in the middle of the always lively Oxbow Public Market, Ritual Coffee Roasters is utterly modern in appearance and taste. The San Francisco-based company specializes in coffee, as evident from its name (and they’re best in town, according to my coffee-loving husband), but has an equally serious approach to tea. No tea bags here: green, oolong, red, and herbal teas are made using Hario tea drippers and are served on cute tea trays. My current favorite from the 8-item tea menu is Winter Spout oolong tea with subtle, coating flavors of “caramelized ginger, kettle corn, and cotton candy”. Yes, the menu actually has tasting notes for the tea.
Ritual Coffee offers locally-made pastries from Butter Cream Bakery and Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, as well as cookies from Annie The Baker. Of the three, Annie’s wonderfully chubby and chewy cookies are probably the best choice (others can be tasted elsewhere). My favorites are coconut and macadamia nut, neither of which is excessively sweet. If you happen to be in Napa on a Tuesday or Saturday morning between May and October, you can actually walk across the road to the Farmers Market and buy cookies directly from smiley and chatty Annie. She’ll probably have some new flavors for you to try.
Another heavenly option is to pair the Ritual’s tea/coffee with a treat from Ca’Momi Enoteka just down the aisle at Oxbow. This Napa establishment specializes in Italian cuisine and makes delicious pastries that are as close to the real Italian thing as one can get. Every time I try Ca’Momi’s bignès, cannolis, cantuccis, and ciambellinas, I’m transported to a tiny Italian pastry shop on Lake Como, where we lost track of time and nearly missed our lake tour.
Kara’s Cupcakes across from Ca’Momi is another great sweet choice. I personally can’t stay quite elegant stripping the cupcake off its paper baking cup, and biting it without leaving half of the frosting on my face. But elegance issues aside, Kara’s cupcakes are both pretty and delicious: fairly light, moist, fluffy, and naturally-tasting. I love carrot, chocolate with sea salt, and raspberry flavors.
Oxbow Market is not a suitable first date place: everyone in town will see you, and the noise level isn’t conducive to love whispers. But with so many truly delicious options, it’s a place to indulge, hone your sweet tooth, and soar above the ground.
Oxbow Public Market is open daily.
Ritual Coffee Roasters is open 7:30 am to 8 pm. Teas are $3-4.50. They have other locations in San Francisco’s Mission, Hayes Valley, and Bayview.
Annie The Baker’s cookies are sold at Ritual Coffee Roasters and several other locations in the Napa Valley. You can also buy them directly from Annie at the Napa Farmers Market (Tuesdays & Saturdays from 8 am to 12:30 pm between May & October) at $2 a piece, or $5 for three.
Ca’Momi is open 11 am – 9 pm. Bignès and other small cakes are $29 per pound (four pieces come at around $7), cannolis – $6 a piece.
Kara’s Cupcakes is open 10 am – 9 pm Monday – Saturday, and until 8 pm on Sunday. Cupcakes are $3.50, small-sized ones – $2. This San Francisco-based company has several locations in the Bay Area, from Napa to Monterey.
ABC: local feel with a touch of humor
Alexis Baking Company and Cafe (ABC) is a place to go for a local feel. This cafe/bakery on the edge of the commercial downtown has served pastries and sandwiches since 1985, and the locals seem to never get tired of them: I’ve seen as long lines outside the door on a Tuesday morning as around Saturday brunch.
The cafe closes at 3 pm, so no ‘high tea’ is served here. Nor would one expect it either – this is an American neighborhood place with hearty food, generous portions, and an unpretentious approach (think wax table-cloths). There’re some humorous touches, too, such as bathroom signs, and the general atmosphere is jovial. There’s live music on the weekends.
Of the baked goods, I particularly enjoy moist and flavorful bran-prune-walnut muffins, and fresh apple cake. The sizeable pastries are expectedly quite rich, so I could share one and still have a solid breakfast or snack.
For hot tea, you’ll be given an old wooden box with various tea bags, and selecting one always feels like a game to me. There’re also several varieties of good fresh brewed ice tea.
ABC is open from 7 am (7:30 on Saturday) to 3 pm Monday – Saturday, and from 8 am until 2 pm on Sunday. Muffins – $2.25, apple cake – $2.75, hot tea – $2.
The Model Bakery: grab-n-go
The Model Bakery in Napa isn’t technically a place to sit down with a cup of tea: while there’re a few wooden tables outside, the bakery shares them with another establishment. Accordingly, tea and coffee are only available in paper mugs to go.
But the bakery makes lots of pastries, cakes, and cookies, as well as Napa’s best bread and English muffins. There might also be a 30 people-long line for breakfast sandwiches on the weekends.
My lifehack is to get to the bakery in the morning and see if there’re any yesterday’s pastries available. A pack of four will be selling at $3, and they’ll be practically as good as today’s, except perhaps for croissants (which aren’t impeccable anyway).
Model’s Morning Glory muffins with raisins, shredded carrots and apples are excellent, as are their danishes. And nothing beats the fresh bread smell and a view of bakers at work.
The Model Bakery is open Monday-Friday from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm; Saturday, 7 am – 7 pm; Sunday 7 am – 6:30 pm. There’s also a second location in St. Helena, which has a cafe seating. Muffins & scones – $2.75, other morning pastries – $2-4.50, tea (Mighty Leaf pouches in a paper mug) – $2.50.
Molinari Caffè: small town’s big-city coffee shop
Hidden at the back of the busy Main street and temporarily obscured by post-earthquake scaffolding on both sides, Molinari Caffè is modern, airy, and tranquil. Tall windows, local art on the walls, and young patrons armed with laptops, tablets and head-phones make the place feel more like a San Francisco coffee shop than a small-town cafe. It’s a perfect place for some alone time or a soft conversation.
While most of Molinari’s sweet things come from The Model and ABC bakeries, mama Molinari makes her own biscottis. “Finally”, I said to myself, dipping one in a cup of tea, “a biscotti without artificial flavoring”. The loose tea selection is surprisingly good for an Italian place but make sure to ask for a porcelain cup, otherwise it’ll be served in a paper mug. Coffee is good here too, according to my coffee-loving husband.
Molinari Caffè is open from 7 am until 5 pm on weekdays, 7 am to 3 pm on Saturdays and 7 am to 12 pm on Sundays. Teas – $2.70 – 3.25, biscotti – $1.00.
Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company
An advantageous location on the corner of the First and Main Streets and a great coffee smell that spills out onto the street could make this place a coffee lover’s paradise. Maybe it is, but a tea drinker might go elsewhere: tea pouches from Mighty Leaf in a paper mug isn’t my idea of great tea. I’ve also tried hot cocoa, which was wonderfully fluffy – perhaps the fluffiest cocoa ever, but it left a floury aftertaste, making me want to reach out for a glass of water.
The owners could take some advice from an interior designer or a feng shui specialist. The boring wall paint is peeling, the tables are oddly placed either in direct sunlight or in barristas’ way, and the photos on the wall look faded. To me, this might be a quick stop for a caffeine boost, not a place to linger.
Napa Valley’s Coffee Roasting Company in Napa is open 7 days a week from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm. There’s a second location in St. Helena. Tea – $2.20, hot cocoa – $3.45 for medium size (12 oz). Pastries are from Sweetie Pie.
Butter Cream Bakery and Dining: an old-school establishment for nostalgic palates
If you work in a Napa office, chances are, in the matter of few weeks someone will bring Butter Cream donuts to work. This bakery and diner is one of Napa’s staples, having baked, fried and grilled since 1949. If you visit in the morning, the bakery part looks like a busy factory, churning out trays of white and pink glazed donuts, and packing orders in one pink box after another. It’s a mesmerizing view: after 15 minutes of just watching, my sugar craving is completely satisfied.
Perhaps, leaving at this point is my best choice, as I don’t quite understand the nostalgic American palate. To me, all Butter Cream’s donuts, turnovers, and danishes are far too rich and sweet, and muffins taste like they were made from baking mixes (including the famed champagne muffin). A lot of people must think differently, however: this is the only bakery where you need to take a number during busy hours.
Butter Cream Bakery is open 7 days a week from 5:30 am to 3:00 pm (2:30 pm on Sundays). Regular donuts – $0.85, fancy donuts – $0.99, muffins – $1.59, bag tea – $1.89.
Napa for Chocoholics